Proposed downtown zoning

The city of Helena is looking to change downtown development directives and wants community input.

Sharon Haugen, Helena's community development coordinator, explained that two separate zoning districts are being created; one for downtown and one for the residential district surrounding it. 

"This comes from the downtown master plan," Haugen said. "It's so the current zoning districts that constitute downtown can combine into one zoning code."

Simplicity is the goal for the city's zoning push, along with a desire to "increase utility in downtown for residents," city planner Ellie Ray said. 

More mixed-use space is one way the city hopes to vitalize the downtown area with "24/7" activity, Ray said.

The city will be changing and in some ways easing how commercial parts of buildings can and will be used. There also will be changes to the rules for developers the city hopes to attract to Helena.

"There is an expansion of uses that will be allowed in downtown," Haugen said.

As the price of land increases, the city hopes people will "invest capital gains" downtown. The sale of KCAP park for $30,500 earlier in March is a good sign for other surplus land items the city may sell in the near future, Haugen said. 

Part of the new zoning regulations will include aesthetic decisions, including regulating building heights and making a more "late 1800s and early 1900s feel to downtown Helena," Ray said. Code changes made in the zoning decision would be relevant only on new construction, be that renovation or ground-up building.

"We want a more unified look," Ray said.

One of the more complicated areas the city is looking to address is a four-block section of properties off of Benton Avenue. Under the new zoning proposal, the area would be declared a transitional residential district, making it easier for homeowners to run a business out of their house or to turn homes into businesses. However, because the new zoning would restrict each homeowner to one vehicle for parking congestion purposes, some homeowners are concerned that would adversely affect them.

Ray said issues like parking were brought up directly to her and the planning committee, and those kinds of responses are what the city is looking for in the open meeting from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Helena Civic Center ballroom. 

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Crime and Health Reporter

Crime and health reporter for the Helena Independent Record.

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